Teaching Tips: When Students Don’t Have Pencils or Homework

Note: My motivation for writing this is explained.

There is no group of people anywhere who are more dedicated, capable, and caring than teachers. Society asks far too much of them: long hours, inadequate pay, lack of due respect, and even financial pressure in their classroom to meet the students’ needs. A few years ago I even had to feed my Title I students if I wanted them to learn since the dry cereal the school called breakfast let them run out of energy by midmorning due to lack of protein and other nutrients.

Then there’s the possibility that the system can impose illogical policies on classrooms. A parent of a former students called me to report that he was doing great in his new class, but he had one recurring challenge that this lovely mother was at a loss to solve.

In both my class and home, this young man had been taught to be a nurturing member of the community. As he carried the skill to the new school he found himself in trouble. He had given pencils to students who had either a lack of money or a lack of attention or organization.

This boy proudly kept a pencil bag full of sharp pencils. This caused his mother constant grief even though she admitted she was also proud of him. She was looking for solutions.

In schools across the country some of the students who need it most are sometimes being  left out since they don’t have a pencil or haven’t brought their homework back. There are some solutions which help the class be more of a calm learning environment while practicing real inclusion for some of our most at risk children.

When Homework is Checked in Class

In some classrooms these children who have no pencil or no homework drift while the instructor provides vital followup on the homework assignment. It is a reality that some homes can’t or won’t support the learning in the classroom by seeing to it that their child does homework.

There are many and varied reasons, some valid and some not. Yet schools are still tasked with helping these students learn. Whatever the reason, the goal is to get them involved in homework and the larger commitment to continued learning. Avoid telling reluctant students that the work is easy as that only increases anxiety and phobic feelings of insufficiency.

The problem with giving such students no work because they didn’t return it from home, lost it, or didn’t do it, is that:

  • They don’t having something to keep them busy while the class is checking.
  • They are the ones who MOST need to learn from experience with the skills being taught, but are being deprived of a chance to learn when they are excluded from the process.
  • They will suffer in attitude and behavior, an issue which will challenge the whole class, the teacher, and thus the actual learning output.

A proactive technique would be to make available spare sheets of homework to prevent compounding the problem of not doing homework by leaving these children out of the checking process.Yes, I know paper is rationed in many districts. I sent emails to friends asking them to contribute a ream of paper if possible. This solved the problem for me, as I could not afford to bankroll all the needs in my classroom.

These ideas will include them, empowers their learning, and may even motivate them to get in the habit of doing and returning homework. At worst, it allows them some exposure to the curriculum while keeping the whole class more on task since these students won’t be looking for something else to do.

When Student Does Not Have a Pencil

It is not terribly unusual for a student to show up for class without a pencil or other required classroom supplies. Yet it is counterproductive to not allow that child to participate in learning activities as a few teachers suggest. However, it is no better to accidentally become codependent thus preventing the student from developing habits of acting responsibly.

One way to help without enabling is to let the student earn the needed supplies by doing an extra classroom task. Avoid making the task so rewarding that the child will seek it out. It should feel like work, yet not to the point of punishment.

Again, calling on your friends with word of mouth or email can generate pencils galore for your students in need of them. For parents and others who wish to further our the reach of education in our schools, this may be a good time to adopt a class, or several, and see that they always have the basics to allow learning to progress smoothly.

It is vital for students to have appropriate supplies for learning in school. There are ways to see that it happens which can empower students who are at risk of falling through the cracks of the educational system.

Copyright by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.

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About grantutor

Career educator in both public and private schools. Has tutored all ages. Writes about education, parenting, & seniors. Sings harmony with folk/rock group and a choir. Caregiver for spouse who dealt with Stage IV cancer. Happy person committed to nature and conservation of a green world.
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